The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Monday a plea of Congress leader Pawan Khera seeking transfer and clubbing of FIRs lodged against him in Assam and Uttar Pradesh for allegedly making objectionable remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud on Friday deferred the hearing on Khera's plea to March 20 after taking note of submissions that senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the Congress leader, was unavailable.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Uttar Pradesh and Assam, urged the bench that the matter can be taken up for hearing on Monday instead of Friday. "Ok, we will take it up on Monday," said the bench, which also comprises justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala.
The apex court had earlier extended the interim bail of Khera, who was arrested by Assam Police in the case, till March 17. Earlier, Assam and Uttar Pradesh governments, in their separate affidavits, opposed Khera's plea seeking clubbing of FIRs lodged against him, claiming that his party was still continuing with the "very same low level" on their social media accounts.
The Uttar Pradesh government sought dismissal of the plea with a cost by terming it "misconceived" and "an attempt to leapfrogging the routine procedure available under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)".
"It is submitted that the leaders of the political party (Congress) to which the petitioner (Khera) belongs have, even after this hon'ble court taking cognisance of the matter, continued the very same low level in their official Twitter handles and other social media accounts," the Assam government said. Prior to this, on February 27, the top court had extended the protection from arrest to Khera.
The Congress spokesperson was arrested from the Delhi airport after he was de-boarded from a plane that was supposed to take him to Raipur in connection with his alleged remarks against Modi made at a press conference in Mumbai on February 17. He obtained bail from a magisterial court here on February 23 after the CJI-led bench granted him the interim bail during an urgent hearing earlier in the day.
"In order to enable the petitioner (Khera) to apply for regular bail before the jurisdictional court, upon the FIRs being transferred to one jurisdiction, we direct that the petitioner shall be released on interim bail by the court of the competent magistrate at Delhi where he is to be produced this evening," the apex court had said. "The above order shall remain in operation till February 28," it had said.
The apex court, which had listed the matter for hearing on February 27, had issued notices to Assam and Uttar Pradesh, seeking their responses on Khera's plea for transferring and clubbing together three separate FIRs lodged against him in the two states. After dictating the order, the CJI had apparently expressed his displeasure over Khera's remarks and observed: "We have protected you (Khera), but there has to be some level of discourse."
Singhvi, appearing for Khera, had said the words taken at their face value, as reflected in the FIRs, do not establish any offence punishable under the sections invoked. He also told the apex court that Khera had already apologised for his remarks and the offences alleged against him in the cases did not require arrest.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the state of Assam, had played the offending video in the court and claimed that Khera's statement on Modi was a "deliberate attempt to denigrate a constitutional functionary".